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into this mournful, anxious, long-drawn-out sound that
rolled in soft waves through the forest.
A magpie, cleaning its sharp, black beak on the
branch of an alder-tree, suddenly cocked its head,
listened and squatted, ready to take flight. The branches
creaked with a note of alarm. Somebody, big and strong,
was pushing through the undergrowth. The bushes rustled,
the tops of the young pines swayed restlessly^ the crunch-
ing of the crisp snow was heard. The magpie screeched
and darted away, its arrowlike tail sticking out.
From out of the snow-covered pines appeared a long
brown muzzle, crowned by heavy, branching antlers.
Frightened eyes scanned the enormous glade. Pink, velvety
nostrils twitched convulsively, emitting gusts of hot,
vaporous breath.
The old elk stood like a statue among the pines. Only
its flocky skin quivered nervously on its back. Its ears,
cocked in alarm, caught every sound, and its hearing was
so acute that it heard a bark beetle boring into the wood
of a pine-tree. But even these sensitive ears heard nothing
in the forest except the twittering and chirping of the
birds, the tapping of the woodpecker and the even rustle
of the pine-tree tops.
Its hearing reassured the elk, but its sense of smell
warned it of danger. The fresh odour of melting snow
was mingled with pungent, offensive and sinister smells
alien to this dense forest. The animal's sad, black eyes
encountered dark figures lying on the crusty surface of
the dazzling white snow. Without moving, it tightened
every muscle, ready to dart into the thicket; but the
figures on the snow lay motionless, close together, some
on top of others. There were a great many of them, but
not one moved or disturbed the virginal silence. Near
them, out of the snow-drifts, towered strange monsters;
it was from here that those pungent and sinister smells
The elk stood on the edge of the glade, gazing with
frightened eyes, unable to grasp what had happened to
this herd of motionless and seemingly harmless humans.
A sound from above startled the animal. The skin
on its back quivered again and the muscles of its hind
legs drew still tighter.